The Oil Man vs. the Demon Barber?
Stand back…you’re about to enter the depths of a speculation zone.
So I was in the midst of a conversation last week with a fellow Oscar blogger and we were tossing around thoughts on the Best Actor race. My feeling was that Daniel Day-Lewis, should the general positive steam continue to build for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” seems like the clear frontrunner to win (something I understand is strange to posit sight unseen, believe me). My argument, however, was, quite simply, who’s the competition?
For starters, it’s been nearly 20 years since “My Left Foot.” And Day-Lewis took some time off that would make the notion that “he already has an Oscar” somewhat moot. I also believe there could be left over sentiment for his clearly beloved performance in the clearly not beloved “Gangs of New York.” No other actor or performance seems to demand the award. But let’s look through them for the sake of argument…
Tom Hanks is still unseen in “Charlie Wilson’s War” beyond an aiming-for-the-box office trailer, but he’s also woefully miscast. I don’t think I’m alone in that opinion, but, we’ll let the performance speak for itself. Regardless, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Hanks would have to put out career-best work at this stage to ever become anything other than a perennial nominee.
James McAvoy is a stellar young actor, one who has knocked two performances out of the park back to back in “The Last King of Scotland” and “Atonement.” However, as good and controlled as he is in the latter, I’m not sure it is enough to send shockwaves like Adrien Brody’s turn in “The Pianist.” It can be a little difficult to poke through as a younger male actor at the Oscars, and though it isn’t out of the realm of possibility, I think it’s asking a lot to hang the award on McAvoy’s shoulders right now.
If Denzel Washington gets nominated at all it’s going to be for “The Great Debaters,” a role looking more and more like Glenn Holland meets Norman Dale, rather than for the more expected turn in “American Gangster.” But a win six years ago (and two statues to his name) will be enough to keep him off the stage of the Kodak for some time.
Tommy Lee Jones could have posed a real threat if Paul Haggis’s “In the Valley of Elah” had been an across-the-board success. “Great but not great enough” seems to be keeping it out of Best Picture play, and therefore, seems to be muting what Jones could have done in the awards season with this performance. Still, the actor has a role in “No Country for Old Man” that continues to keep the fire going, and he has yet to win a lead statue. Something to consider, I’ll freely admit.
Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag. Emile Hirsch is too young and not Earth-shattering enough in “Into the Wild.” Denzel Washington, as mentioned, is good but somewhat derivative in “American Gangster,” and I sense the Academy might be over it. Brad Pitt is phenomenal in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” but are members going to sit through the film? Phillip Seymour Hoffman is having the year of his life, with two of his best performances in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and “The Savages,” but he just took the whole kit and caboodle two years ago. Ryan Gosling is a wunderkind to say the least, but winning for a character who falls in love with a blow-up doll (however touching the screenplay)?
Peripheral contenders seem to simply have too modest an amount of steam behind them. Khalid Abdallah is almost unwatchable in “The Kite Runner,” but so is the film. Perhaps the Academy will differ, but it’s not an awards-worthy turn regardless. Benicio Del Toro is well-received in “Things We Lost in the Fire,” but he’s not leaving a scorched path. Sam Riley could make a major play if the actors rally behind “Control” (and a SAG screening next week will begin to tell the tale there), but youth isn’t a commodity (see James McAvoy). John Cusack is overdue – it is written in stone – but the afterburners on “Grace is Gone” are silent right now – et cetera, et cetera.
So I came to Johnny Depp, who teams with Tim Burton for the 83rd time in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” I only two weeks ago decided to usher him back to my predicted line-up, mind you, but suddenly it seems like the sort of performance this year that could give Day-Lewis a real run for his money. Then my colleague noted, “Well, if you’re looking for SENTIMENT.”
So what about that? Johnny Depp is, after all, a widely respected actor. He finally got a nomination for a role any other actor would have been lambasted for even taking. He followed it up the very next year with a nod for a much less extravagant turn, proving that he can turn them on no matter what the level of showmanship. Could regard for his last two nominated performances (and keep in mind, the giant voting body of the Screen Actors Guild handed him their award in 2003) bolster support for a nominated turn in “Sweeney Todd?” And how wonderful would it be to see him take down the win under the direction of his consistent collaborator?
Naturally, we’re just spinning our wheels here, but something tells me this year’s Best Actor race could come down to these two gentlemen. The wrench in the works is that neither character is particularly loveable. We won’t get many heart-string tugs out of these films, and that is perhaps where Jones or Washington could come in to spoil the party (or John Cusack, if the Weinsteins get a campaign together that doesn’t resemble the fishiness of last year’s gamble on Sienna Miller).
I could be out to lunch on this and humbly accept that notion. But in any case, you are now leaving the speculative zone.
(No notes on the Oscar charts this week. It’s all a strange blur, for some reason, but I did take the plunge with the Weinstein hopeful “The Great Debaters” and added a slew of competitors to the supporting actress chart, noted dry territory.)
Next week: The (not so secret) announcement commeth.
Previous Oscar Columns:
10/08/07 - "Clean-up on Aisle September"
10/01/07 - "Still Anybody's Game"
09/17/07 - "Post-Toronto Update"
09/10/07 - "Notes from the Eye of a Storm"
09/03/07 - "Launching the New Season"
08/03/07 - "August Update"
07/01/07 - "The Silence is Deafening"
02/26/07 - "Forging Ahead: In Contention's Year in Advance Oscar Speculation"